BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
The last few days have been very Armenia- and Armenian-ful, with a Teghood focus. That’s the virgin, old growth, forest in the northern part of the Republic of Armenia that’s being decimated by a massive mining operation.
Friday, outgoing California State Assemblymember Anthony Portantino had his annual holiday gathering. It was encouraging to see so many Armenians (including even those for whom I have, shall we say, tempered, respect, politically speaking) there, contributing children’s books which were to be donated to local libraries. Of course, I took a recently published Armenian language kids’ book. Right after that, it was off to the Burbank Armenian Center’s first-Friday-of-the-month dinner, with hereeseh (which I despise) being on the menu. To be fair, this cook’s hereeseh is uniformly extolled for its excellence.
Saturday was spent in the hills, gathering food contributions for holiday gift baskets for needy families in Burbank (some 500 last year, a significant number of them being Armenian), and attending the youth-organized session with eco-activist Yeghia Nersesian at the ACF’s center. While the attendance was lackluster (I hope it’s only because we are in the midst of final exam season), the discussion was energetic and varied. Not only is Yeghia on the forefront of the fight to save Teghood from the clutches of rapacious miners, but he’s also an advocate of good government, hence the title of this article. The fight to save Teghood and other locations, some utterly pristine and hosting unique flora and fauna, is based on the precept that government and policy should be designed for the good of a country and its people at large, not a very few oligarchs as these latter-day robber barons are called in the RoA. The concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of these petty tyrants is one of the causes of the Republic of Armenia’s ongoing problems. Reforming this system of legalized theft will lead to true liberty for residents of the republic and the ability to move forward on our broader national agenda.
Don’t miss the opportunity to hear, meet, and interact with Yeghia on Sunday, December 16, 6:30 pm, at the Merdinian School, 13330 Riverside Dr., Los Angeles, CA 91423. The event will focus primarily on Teghood and other mining operations in the RoA.
Sunday morning was to have been a hike with Yeghia, but jetlag and a full schedule led him to demur, and we went without him. Luckily, given the mix of participants, discussions were heavy on Diaspora activity in the homeland. The starkest point, one which has really burned itself into my consciousness, is based on the fact that there are 866 villages in the RoA. The challenge was to have that many people come forward who, at the cost of a very few thousand dollars in startup and maintenance funds, could help with the economic development of adopted villages. Hell, I’d bet there’s even money to be made for those patrons. I would even argue that rather than just individuals, local units of our big Diaspora organizations, from political parties to churches to athletic groups and beyond, could become the patrons of those villages. Do the math worldwide, I come up with roughly 250 units which could take on such a challenge. And, think of the tremendous Diaspora/homeland bond this would develop. Think of the independence from crooked electeds and oligarchs this would foster. Here, again, is an avenue to improved civics in the RoA. Adding Artzakh and Javakhk to this approach would not be much of an additional stretch. Are you and your organization up to this challenge?
Sunday was also interesting for the overnight organization, at Yeghia’s behest, a protest against Armenia’s visiting Prime Minister. This occurred at the Western Diocese and was, once again, directed against the destructive mining practices at Teghood and elsewhere as well as general issues of good government in the RoA. The protest proves that we can engage in rapid action with the right motivation. It also demonstrated that Armenia’s current government officials may be developing some PR savvy at long last. In a video recording of the interaction between prime minister and protesters, the former is very calm, saying all the right things. Though he comes off somewhat smug and condescending, he is a far cry from the thuggery that led to the murder of Vahe Avedian in June. Unfortunately, there’s not much substantive grounding to the prime minister’s professed support for civil society development in the RoA. But again, it’s progress and evidence that the pressure being applied by activists is important, beneficial, and beginning to produce positive results.
Also on Sunday, a threesome of movies by Tigran Khzmalian was screened at ARTN studio’s facility in Glendale. These films tracked and connected the USSR’s, Soviet Armenia’s, and the current RoA’s use of chess, soccer, and music as political tools. They were very interesting and worth seeing. The drawback was, despite an effort to weave a national narrative, they were almost exclusively focused (perhaps unavoidably) on a small chunk of our lands and people.
Tuesday night provided another connection to the homeland, this time, the occupied Western part. Lusine Sahakian spoke about her research into the remnants of the Hamshen dialect, and particularly place-names, in Hamshen. This is an area just south of the current Georgia-Turkey border, along the Black Sea, where despite being Islamicized some three centuries ago, a Western Armenian dialect persists (barely) along with some vague awareness of the people’s Armenian origins. It was a scholarly look at the Turkification policies that transcend the Ottoman Empire-Republic of Turkey transition. It is also a sorrowful look at another lost segment of our nation, begging the question, can any of these people be brought back and are we ready to accept among us Moslem Armenians, unhitching our identity from the pervasive, pernicious, and suffocating grip of the church?
Maybe attending Sunday’s Teghood event with Yeghia will help you find a way to engagement with our homeland, whether that’s the occupied or semi-liberated portion will be your choice. I hope to see you there.